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RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Connacht v Scarlets

RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Connacht v Scarlets

Connacht moved into the top half of the RaboDirect PRO12 table following their three-try triumph over Zebre, but they face a tough ask in round 3 as the high-flying Scarlets visit the Sportsground.

RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, September 15

CONNACHT (6th) v SCARLETS (3rd), the Sportsground, 3pm (live TG4)

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Team News: Connacht head coach Eric Elwood has made six changes to his starting team for the visit of the Scarlets to the Sportsground on Saturday afternoon.

Injury has forced an entire new back row and sees Andrew Browne named as blindside flanker. This is Browne’s first game back since he was injured during the 2011/12 pre-season.

Willie Faloon and Eoin McKeon complete the all-new back row, replacing Johnny O’Connor and George Naoupu respectively.

Brett Wilkinson will start in the loosehead prop position, while new signing Nathan White gets his first start for the westerners at tighthead prop.

Elsewhere, in the back-line, the fit-again David McSharry has been drafted in to reform his centre partnership with Eoin Griffin – he replaces Mata Fifita.

The Scarlets are riding high after two successive wins and are perched proudly at the top of the league table.

Connacht boss Elwood was very pleased with his team’s performance in Parma last weekend and the 30-17 win over Zebre, but he knows there is a lot of work to do if they are to overcome the Welsh region.

“We played well against Zebre, scoring three tries away from home and securing our first win of the season,” he said.

“The lads showed huge character in Italy, especially when we were forced into making so many changes in the second half. Tomorrow poses another challenge as the Scarlets are top of the league and are playing very well.

“They’ve had a great start to the season, scoring 10 tries in the process. We will really have to step it up against this Scarlets side but the lads are well up for the challenge.”

Meanwhile, Scarlets head coach Simon Easterby has brought in a few new faces to his matchday squad as he rotates his players for this weekend’s contest in Galway.

Young talent Jordan Williams will make his senior bow at full-back, while new Australian Welsh-qualified second row Jake Ball is on the bench and gets his first opportunity to appear in regional colours.

Wales centre Jonathan Davies takes the captain’s armband for the first time in his Scarlets rugby career.

Changes to the Scarlets starting line-up from last weekend against Glasgow Warriors include Newcastle Emlyn’s scrum half Gareth Davies at half-back and Nick Reynolds on the left wing.

Samon Lee starts at tighthead prop in his first competitive start and Phil John joins him on the loosehead side of the scrum.

Sione Timani will combine with Richard Kelly in the second row, and Kieran Murphy gets the nod at number 8 with the Scarlets’ regular skipper Rob McCusker listed amongst the replacements.

CONNACHT: Gavin Duffy (capt); Tiernan O’Halloran, Eoin Griffin, David McSharry, Fetu’u Vainikolo; Miah Nikora, Kieran Marmion; Brett Wilkinson, Ethienne Reynecke, Nathan White, Michael Swift, Mike McCarthy, Andrew Browne, Willie Faloon, Eoin McKeon.

Replacements: Adrian Flavin, Denis Buckley, Rodney Ah You, David Gannon, Johnny O’Connor, David Moore, Matthew Jarvis, Robbie Henshaw.

SCARLETS: Jordan Williams; George North, Jonathan Davies (capt), Scott Williams, Nick Reynolds; Rhys Priestland, Gareth Davies; Phil John, Matthew Rees, Samson Lee, Sione Timani, Richard Kelly, Josh Turnbull, Johnathan Edwards, Kieran Murphy.

Replacements: Ken Owens, Peter Edwards, Deacon Manu, Jake Ball, Rob McCusker, Aled Davies, Aled Thomas, Gareth Maule.

Referee: Neil Paterson (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: John Lacey, John Carvill (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Dermot Moloney (Ireland)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Connacht to win: 15/8; Draw: 20/1; Scarlets to win: 4/9

Pre-Match Quotes: Eric Elwood (Connacht) – “The Scarlets arrive here as league leaders and are back to their traditional best, playing a fast tempo game,” he told the Galway Advertiser.

“Having already scored 10 tries in just two games, our defence will have to be on top and we know we have our work cut out for ourselves.

“It took a massive effort against Zebre in Parma last weekend – the travel, the heat, and playing against an Italian side with some 400 caps in their first home match.

“The lads showed huge character, particularly when we were forced into making so many changes in the second half. Now they will have to step it up again against the Scarlets who are riding high after their first two games.

“Every game for us is tough, but the lads are fronting up week in, week out. If you take into consideration the travel, the heat last weekend, the hard ground which was a huge transition from the conditions they had played in the previous week, the injuries in the second half, I believe the lads adapted brilliantly.”

Mark Jones (Scarlets) – “We haven’t had a great record at the Sportsground and have tripped up on our last two visits with narrow losses, so we don’t want to put ourselves in a position where we are fighting a tight margin at the end of the game.

“We will need to be ruthless and get ahead and then protect that lead. There is certainly no complacency in this side and absolutely no expectation on winning.

“What we expect is for the boys to perform to the level they have this season, improve on the margins and then we are in with a chance. Our only expectation is on the performance – that should then take care of the result.”

Top Scorers – 2012/13 RaboDirect PRO12: Connacht – Points: Miah Nikora 24; Tries: Tiernan O’Halloran, George Naoupu, Mike McCarthy 1 each; Scarlets – Points: Andy Fenby, George North 15 each; Tries: Andy Fenby, George North 3 each


Friday, October 30, 2009 – Connacht 16 Scarlets 10, the Sportsground
Sunday, April 25, 2010 – Scarlets 58 Connacht 10, Parc y Scarlets
Saturday, September 11, 2010 – Scarlets 35 Connacht 33, Parc y Scarlets
Saturday, February 12, 2011 – Connacht 17 Scarlets 13, the Sportsground
Saturday, September 10, 2011 – Connacht 13 Scarlets 11, the Sportsground
Friday, March 2, 2012 – Scarlets 38 Connacht 10, Parc y Scarlets


– Connacht gained a first win of the new RaboDirect PRO12 season last Friday when they visited Zebre and triumphed 30-17

– Connacht’s only win in their last seven matches against Welsh regions was a 27-19 success against the Newport Gwent Dragons at Rodney Parade last March

– The Scarlets top the PRO12 table for the first time since round 3 during the 2008/09 season, following their successive wins over Leinster and Glasgow Warriors

– The Welshmen have won back-to-back away games, but have not won three in-a-row on the road in the league since the 2006/07 campaign

– The last six clashes between the two sides have all been won by the home side on the day. The Scarlets’ most recent victory at the Sportsground came in January 2009